Understanding the Production Differences of Pinball Games

By xTheBlackKnightx

October 24, 2016

This story got featured & frontpaged on October 30, 2016

7 years ago

The following provides detailed information of understanding the differences when a game is produced. Production category effects the ultimate value of the game along with trend collectability, age, and condition.  The most currently discussed game is Medieval Madness remake (MMr) however there are MANY other examples of the same type of manufacturing in the history of pinball.  If an owner is a player, these terms may have no meaning or value whatsoever, but if a person is a true collector this information is very important.  Manufacturers and advertising has a tendency to “muddy the waters” for sales and profit generation.  This can lead to a lot of confusion from potential buyers whether buying a game new or used.

As a general rule, games fall into following specific categories:

1)  Original

2)  Rerun

3)  Reproduction

4)  Remake

5)  Retheme

6)  Conversion

7)  Clone

8)  Production Prototype

9)  Production Sample

10)  Early Production

11) Home Edition

12)  Homebrew (Custom)

We need to go through some examples of each to understanding their meaning.

No games that have been “modded” at any level are considered in these categories unless extensively changed to make the game into a homebrew version of the same title, or a new game.

Each category type is unique and can directly affect market price either positively or negatively:

1)  Original – The first production of an approved title design.  Generally considered to be the most desirable, but many times may have little differential in price regarding potential future reruns dependent on the game collectability.  The production quantity or manufacturer is not relevant.  It can be 100-10,000 as long as the game was made commercially available for sale either publicly, privately or both.  Price reflective based on rarity is not the purpose of this article, but is included as necessary for descriptive purposes.  There are subcategories of the type regarding any game made as a limited edition or premium, but they still are the “original design” and independent versions of the titles.  High quality reproduction or NOS parts that are used to replace worn parts do not significantly decrease the value of an original game.  Poor restoration efforts will.

2)  Rerun – All sequent production runs of the same approved game title design.  The number of reruns is not relevant unless there is a manufacturer quality control issues during a specific run.  The date of the rerun is not relevant for classification.  Generally uses the exact same game parts, materials, and construction as the original game run.  Minor differences for correction of design deficiencies from board failures, paint, decals, silkscreening, or parts are acceptable in comparison to the original game.  Price values are comparable to the original first run.  A rerun is not a remake, see below.

3)  Reproduction – This is a faithful proper recreation of the original production run game (or original manufacturer intent), generally long after a game was made.  It uses the same parts, design, technology, mechanisms and authorized manufacturer logo of the game.  Small variations to correct design deficiencies are allowed.  The first 10 Illinois Pinball Inc (IPB) Big Bang Bars (BBBs) completely fall into this category; the remaining 181 games are debatable as reproductions because there were variations in playfield design, text, pop bumper skirts, ramps, updated reliability on electronics, and several other areas.  Most people concur that this was acceptable as the quality of the remaining games was still vastly superior to the original prototypes.  Prices for reproductions are nearly always less than the original or rerun games, unless the original game is non-existent.

4)  Remake – A game that uses the original design of the game, but not the same parts or technology. Variations of the new game design preclude the game from being considered a proper reproduction.  Inability to use the original authorized logos is a generally definable characteristic.  This can include anything from the Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs), playfield inserts, lighting, or displays.  MMr is the most common example, but King of Diamonds (Gottlieb, 1967) remake by Retro Pinball LLC (2010) is another example as it was the remade game using solid state technology.  Fireball Classic (Bally, 1985) is NOT an example of this category in compared to the EM version, as it does not have “zipper flippers” as a part of the game design.  The term remake also applies to ALL electro-mechanical games converted to solid state technology such as Mata Hari, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or Charlie’s Angels.  Remakes in the long term generally lose significant value in comparison to original, rerun, or reproduction games until they reach “flat line collector value”.  This is a common misconception by new owners.  Remakes are never worth more because they are "new".  Additionally, remakes are not reproductions, or vice versa.

5)  Retheme – A production pinball game using an existing game design and/or using slightly different features and artwork.  These games are not made by enthusiasts, but commercially sold by manufacturers.   Game of this category includes all Stern “Vault Editions” and the latest reveal of Batman 66.  Other examples included Stern’s Harley Davidson (3rd Edition) and Fireball Classic (Bally, 1985) based on changes of the design.  Prices of rethemes are not comparable to original games, as they are not deemed the same game title.  In some cases, they may even be worth more.

6)  Conversion – A replacement kit consisting normally a new playfield, backglass or translite, and potential cabinet artwork for an existing game, but uses the existing technology and hardware.  Used for reduce cost for operators to "update" their game for profit margin.  This type of game is classified as a completely different game.  The game has severely reduced value from the original game, as most of the time the original game is missing or cannot be converted back without significant work regardless of condition of the game.  Pinball 2000 is a good example.  Sexy Girl (Arkon, 1980) for Playboy  (Bally, 1978) is another example.  Prices of conversions are not comparable to original games, as they are not deemed the same title, regardless if they use the exact same parts for technology.  If the conversion is unique enough, has a special place in pinball history, made in limited numbers, or produced for very short amount of time, it might even eclipse the original title in terms of popularity or value, but this is extremely uncommon.  The most recent example of this type of game is Alien (Heighway, 2016) which will is scheduled to be made available in kit form as well as a full game.

7)  Clone – A “copycat” game produced by a competing manufacturer using the same game design usually with different artwork only, but sometimes includes copied hardware design as well.  Good examples include Sure Shot (Taito, 1981) and Cowboy Eight Ball (LTD, 1981) which are copies of Eight Ball Deluxe (Bally, 1981).  These games are always worth substantially less than the original games, regardless of production quality or unique artwork, as they are considered unlicensed “forgeries”.

8)  Production Prototype – A manufacturer game never designed to leave the factory for demonstration purposes.  The game was designed for management, investors, Expo reveal, or the operator or consumer markets for interest.  Many times has uncompleted features and game code. Many PCBs have the “X” notation, or are red in color, but this is not a “guarantee”. Total numbers usually are less than 25 machines, but can be as small as a single one.  May be converted into a production sample if the game is deemed sufficient complete (see point above).  Never sold to the public as a commercial game unless converted to a sample game, but sometimes was offered to manufacturer employees or collectors.  Often ends up in the designer’s personal collection.  Prototypes rejected may never make the cut to actual production.  A good example was Critical Mass (Gottlieb, 1982) that was pitched as the successor for Black Hole (Gottlieb, 1981).   Desirability by collectors is very high based on their rarity and features.  It can be extremely high, if the game is fully playable.  As result, prototype values are higher than production games, which can range from several hundred to thousands of dollars.  True prototype games that were never produced can range into the tens of thousands of dollars.  True fully working prototype games that have retained collectable value over the years that were never commericially produced include titles such as Loch Ness Monster (Gameplay, 1985), Still Crazy (Williams, 1985), King Kong (Data East, 1990), and Krull (Gottlieb, 1983).

9)  Production Sample – A manufacturer game designed for evaluation in the consumer and operator markets.  Dependent on the potential license success the number of the games made could be as high as 100-200, but generally fewer than 50.  Sometimes include features ultimately removed from production models, such as Twilight Zone’s “third magnet” due to cost reasons.  Samples also sometimes include PCB changes when games were converted to use different pinball operating systems and ICs. Funhouse (Williams, 1990) is an excellent example as a few of these games used the Williams System 11 sound board.  Most of these games were converted to early production models.  Late production games that used the next generation of boardset are not classified as production samples.  They are classified as part of the "original run".  Desirability by collectors is high based on additional features, and results in higher value, even if the condition is lower than a higher quality example of a standard production game.

10)  Early Production – A game made during the first part of a production run, usually distinguishable with several different features from the majority of the rest of the run.  Numbers could be as little as 100 into several 1000 based on the overall production run of the game.  It may include features that were ultimately removed for cost reasons, designer aesthetic changes, or discovered design problems based on operator reports.  This definition has nothing to do with “game code” as this is easily upgradable in most cases unless they used differentiation of PCBs.  Examples of this type of game are Doctor Who with the rotating Dalek “wobble head”, Star Trek:  The Next Generation with domed cannons, or F-14 Tomcat with the white arrow inserts.  Value of these games is generally very close to original run games +$100-500 at the current time of this article writing.

11)  Home Edition – Consumer only designed games by manufacturers for the home market with reduced features for a lower cost.  Common examples include Fireball, Alive!, Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy (Home Edition), and the future Stern “The Pin” v2.0.  There are many others. Construction and board circuitry is usually simplified.  May or may not use industrial quality construction parts.  These games are classified by some collectors as a “children’s toy”.  Value of these machines is not comparable to the original game designs that were conceived from as they are not the same game, quality, features, or construction.  They are a separate game.

12)  Homebrew (Custom) – Private enthusiast games made from an existing game or a new game made from existing parts into a new theme title or special cases (see below).  These games were never commercially manufactured in any type of significant quantity either due to the time consuming process or license issues.  This may be as simple as taking an existing game and designing new artwork, to a full overhaul with playfield and cabinet artwork, parts, and code.  This type of game also includes ALL new games made with existing NOS or reproduction parts without manufacturer serial numbers.  Good examples of this last type are Monster Bash, Attack from Mars, and Medieval Madness after reproduction parts became a feasible alternative against the prohibitive high cost of the originals.  Value of these titles is completely dependent on the quality of the construction by the creators and added features produced for the game.  For example, The Matrix (Pinnovating, 2013) is worth substantially more than Johnny Mnemonic (Williams, 1995).  Iron Maiden that was converted from a Stern Rolling Stones, and Ghostbusters from a Bally Flash Gordon are other examples.  As a final example, homebrew Monster Bashes without proper Williams (WMS) serial numbers are not comparable to original games based on value.  This information can be validated by a number of means even if a creator attempts to disguise the creation with false serial number tags, but requires someone that is exceptionally familiar with Willams Pinball Controller-Security (WPC-S) systems and the individual game to identify them.

Keep this information in mind when considering purchases.

This information is in addition to condition, market collectability trends, and availability, that define game value.

These definitions will prevent potential owners from being misled in terms of actual production realities of game titles and their design.

Story photos

MM Comparison.jpg


7 years ago

What is MMr ?

7 years ago

Excellent writeup! Thank you.

7 years ago

MMr or MM-R= Medieval Madness remake

7 years ago

How rare or how would you classify a Williams Stellar Wars that is a system 6 most are system 4s but I have a system 6 and as I understand it that happened with this game maybe a latter production

7 years ago

Excellent write-up. Thanks for the effort.

7 years ago

MMR is the best!!

7 years ago

So would you consider the GB with reinforcement misspelled an Early Production game?

7 years ago

I hate where pinball has gone. It's just like old cars - the common man can no longer afford them.

7 years ago

Nice overview of the terminology :)

7 years ago

Excellent write up thanks :)

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